By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 17, 2012) US Soccer Players – For those of you who aren't fans of the regular revolving contenders in England's Premier League, there's some good news for 2012-13. Though the dueling Manchesters will almost assuredly be competing for the title, the London contingent might not have done enough. That includes 3rd-place Arsenal, 4th-place Spurs, 6th-place Chelsea, and 9th-place Fulham. What that could create this season is a reshuffling of the clubs capable of qualifying for Europe in the 3rd through 5th spots, and with it a reassessment of the Premier League.
For those keeping score at home, once again it's the two Manchester teams making the most impressive player moves. They've spent, with the incoming players upgrading their chances. This is in contrast to the reigning European champions Chelsea, who are riding the benefit of that nice shiny trophy. It's polite to include the Champions League winner among the favorites for the Premier League title, but it's not exactly realistic. Even with the problems Arsenal have created for themselves, Chelsea are still missing pieces.
Yes, we're talking about the team that signed Oscar, but that remains a calculated risk. It's the same situation for Eden Hazard in expecting young players to adjust immediately to the kind of soccer Chelsea needs to play. Though there's probably more than enough room this season for a club to slip and have time to recover, Chelsea should still be considered about the contrast of styles between Europe and the Premier League. The Manchester clubs get that right in a way that hasn't applied to Chelsea in several seasons. They know as well as anybody that spending on its own isn't enough.
Arsenal have set themselves up as the most financially pragmatic club in the Premier League, so their response to the Robert Van Persie issue was as predictable as it was self-defeating. Van Persie is the kind of player clubs normally build around, and the player himself was questioning Arsenal's willingness to push forward. Manchester United has no such qualms, adding Van Persie as they try to squeeze past Manchester City at the top of the table.
For Arsenal, this is an interesting scenario. Their additions are significantly better than what Spurs have done, but not good enough to differentiate themselves in the space between 3rd and 7th. Arsenal have made it known they're the club doing the most to maneuver themselves gracefully toward a future of fiscal responsibility under Financial Fair Play, even as the clubs around them focus on the current season. The long view has real costs in this scenario, and this could be the season that Arsenal pays in the standings.
Sure, using 'could be' is a monumental hedge. Arsenal's coaching staff tends to get more out of a group of players than other clubs. This was true when they had better players than other clubs. It's worth remembering how much time was spent last season trying to tease out of the Arsenal system was at the end of its run. Then they finished 3rd. Yes, it was 19 points back of the Manchester clubs, but it was still an achievement. This season, that reach for a better league position than expected could end up being a fight for fifth or sixth. That's better than Spurs should expect, but once again there won't be a London club pressing for the title.
Who steps into that gap? Newcastle for one, an easy pick for a team that looks better than they did last season when they finished 5th. Liverpool would like to be included in that conversation as well, but there's a good chance they're once again the second team in their own city. That could be good news, with both the Liverpool clubs ending up higher than last season's 7th and 8th. Whether or not that's asking too much from Everton is a question, but this is a club that's quietly done a lot of work outside of the massive transfer fees of the title contenders and the media posturing of other clubs.
It's not simply wishing good things for the team with an American player to think this could be the year for Everton. They've already got a top-tier goalkeeper playing in front of a defense that more often than not does its job. That's a crucial distinction at Premier League level. Everton has gained in the attack, a process that started during last January's transfer window. Though it may look like Rangers revisited with Steven Naismith joining Nikica Jelavic, Everton gives both of those players a better platform than they had in Scotland. Jelavic showed that last season, causing the rest of the Premier League to reassess why more clubs weren't interested. Naismith should end up in the same category. For all of Arsenal's talk about finances, Everton are the club doing the most with the least amount of financial risk.
Where does that leave the other clubs with American players? Fulham are as good as Clint Dempsey makes them. It's more than rumors linking Dempsey to another club, and Fulham are openly talking about a transfer. They have no chance of replacing his goal production on a budget. For Eric Lichaj and Brad Guzan at Aston Villa, they should expect better than last season's 16th-place. Does that mean finishing higher than Geoff Cameron's Stoke City? Perhaps, with both clubs spending the second half of the season above the relegation places.
2012-13 Premier League Predictor
Winner: Manchester United
European Places (assuming 2nd-5th): Manchester City, Everton, Newcastle , Arsenal
Relegated: QPR, West Ham, Wigan
Promoted: Bolton, Blackburn, Nottingham Forest
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